Fair trade vanilla answers consumer call for social responsibility

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fair trade

A fair trade certified pure vanilla is due to hit the US market, as
a collaboration between flavor firm David Michael and fair trade
certifier TransFair USA taps into the growing consumer interest in
social responsibility.

According to David Michael, its new product will be the first fair trade certified pure vanilla in the US.

Indeed, a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that sustainable development will steadily advance over the next 10 years. And the challenge of creating strategies that meet immediate needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations is already here, with consumers increasingly conscious about which companies have been quickest to adapt their practices.

What's more, the global food industry finds itself at the cutting edge. Exploitative sourcing is now a mainstream issue, while the dramatic growth of fair trade is pulling food consumption out of the cost-is-all bracket, with consumers prepared to pay more for guarantees of fair labor practices and sustainable sourcing.

Fair trade ensures that farmers around the world use sustainable farming methods and are paid a fair price for their crops. When market prices fall below the cost of production, farmers are still guaranteed the fair trade price.

With its move into the fair trade market, David Michael said it is answering "the call for social responsibility."

And according to TransFair USA founder and CEO Paul Rice, "much like with the coffee crisis in the 1990s, the vanilla market needs fair trade right now more than ever - to stabilize the market, give value to sustainable, small-scale vanilla farming, and allow farmers to continue cultivating a crop they have invested so much of their resources to establish."

Indeed, fair trade certified coffee is now said to be the fastest growingsegment of the specialty coffee market, while fair trade certified tea grew 187 percent in 2005.

When it comes to vanilla, the ingredient is crucial to a wide variety of food and beverage applications, including baked goods, sodas, candies, syrups, ice cream and soy milk.

But the global market for vanilla has been in tumult in recent years. A devastating cyclone in 2000 and the 2002 political crisis in Madagascar, the world's biggest grower supplying 50 per cent of the world market, resulted in vanilla prices soaring from about $20 a kilo to record prices of up to $300 during 2003's vanilla scarcity.

"As a result, many companies switched to synthetic vanilla flavoring, just as new vanilla farmers in Africa and Latin America emerged eager to capitalize on an inflated market,"​ said TransFair USA last week.

Last year, prices fell on the back of a bumper vanilla bean harvest in Madagascar, that trebled production from 500 metric tons in 2003 to around 1500 metric tons in 2004.

"While the vanilla industry is still recovering from devastating price fluctuations, many farmers are struggling to sell their crops, some even uprooting or abandoning their vanilla plants. This option is devastating for farmers who have invested considerable time establishing their crops - vanilla is perhaps the world's most labor-intensive crop with the lowest yield, taking an average of five years between first planting the vine and producing aged extract,"​ said TransFair USA.

TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization, is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), and the only independent, third-party certifier of fair trade products in the United States. The organization audits transactions between US companies offering Fair Trade Certified products and the international suppliers from whom they source.

FLO annually inspects producer organizations to ensure that strict socioeconomic development criteria is met using increased fair trade revenue, in addition to sustainable farm management, environmental stewardship and democratic decision making.

The new vanilla product from David Michael is to be immediately available, although quantities are expected to be "limited"​ because of a small number of certified growers, said the firm.

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